“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Philosophers on the Soul

Many ancient philosophers did not believe in the immortality of the soul. Plato was an exception, however. Some within Socrates’ school leaned towards believing in an immortal soul, but did not fully embrace it. But Plato advanced the view that the soul was an image of God. Other Philosophers attached all the powers of the soul to the physical body and this present life. But Scripture tells us that the soul is immaterial. We must add to it that the soul occupies the body as a king of habitation. It animates all of the body’s functions, including organs. It is also what regulates human behavior, not just the behaviors of this world but also how people relate to God. We can see remnants of its service to God, although it is blurry in our corrupted state. Where does a person’s thirst for glory and sense of shame come from? Where does a sense of shame come from but a respect for what is honorable?

All people have a consciousness for religion. They know deep down inside that they were created to cultivate a good life. God engraved knowledge of himself on the soul of every human being. Indeed, people desire happiness, the kind of perfection which only comes through union with God. Therefore, the souls thirsts for God. The more people study ways to approach God, the more they prove that God infused all people with reason.

Some people argue that the human body contains more than one soul, a sentient and rational. We must reject their argument, unless we want to torment ourselves with frivolous things. They tell us there is a great disconnect between bodily movement and the rational part of the soul. But sometimes a person’s reasoning conflicts with itself. Such conflict is not due to conflict between body and soul, but rather the corruption of human nature. So we don’t need to believe that people have two souls. I’ll leave the finer points of this debate to the philosophers and give godly believe a simpler definition.

Let me summarize the truth that the philosophers do teach. I believe there are five senses (which Plato calls “organs). First, all objects are brought into a “sensorium,” which is a kind of “holding tank.” Second, there is the imagination which makes distinctions between objects in the sensorium. Third, there is reason which is the power to make judgments (what is good/bad, etc.), and lastly, there is intellect, which contemplates what reasons brings to its attention. In addition of these three cognitive faculties of the soul, there are also three “appetite faculties”: will, irascibility, and consupiscence. The will chooses whatever reason and intellect put forth. Irascibility moves on whatever is put forth by reason and the imagination. Concupiscence lays hold of the objects presented to it by the body and imagination. Such a delineation of the soul is more confusing that helpful, however.

If anyone wants to parse out the powers of the mind differently, that’s ok. I won’t even argue with someone who says there are three principles of action, sense, intellect, and appetite. Let us rather adopt a division which is adapted to cover all the capacities of the soul. The philosophers make things too complicated. When they speak simply, they divide the soul into appetite and intellect, but then make both double. To the intellect, they add things like contemplative knowledge and practical knowledge. Contemplate knowledge is mere knowledge that you don’t act on, while practical knowledge moves someone to act by understanding good or evil. In this classification, philosophers speak of the art of living well and justly. The appetites they divide into will and concupiscence. When the will casts off the yoke of reason, they call it concupiscence. Thus, they believe that people can live rightly by their reason.

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